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India’s Supreme Court granted interim bail Wednesday to fact-checking site Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair in the six cases registered against him by the Uttar Pradesh Police. The apex court ordered Zubair to be released on bail before 6 pm on Wednesday on furnishing bail bonds.
A bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said: “There is no reason for deprivation of liberty of the petitioner… to be released on interim bail in each FIR (UP FIRs)… power of arrest should be used sparingly…”
The bench said the special investigation team (SIT) constituted by the Uttar Pradesh government to investigate the UP FIRs (First Information Report) is “rendered redundant and is disbanded.”
It also allowed Zubair to move the Delhi High Court for quashing of the FIRs.
Zubair was arrested on June 27 this year by the Delhi Police for allegedly infringing on religious sentiments in one of his tweets from 2018. He was booked under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between religious groups) and 295 (injuring or defiling a place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class) of the Indian Penal Code.
During the hearing, additional advocate general (AAG) Garima Parshad, representing the UP government, argued that Zubair gets paid for the tweets and the more malicious the tweets, the more payment he gets. The counsel added that Zubair had got close to ₹2 crore and he is not a journalist. Zubair’s counsel advocate Vrinda Grover called the cases an orchestrated investigation for stifling dissent.
The top court said, “No justification to keep him in continued custody and subject him to endless rounds of custody.” It also clubbed all the FIRs against Zubair, and transferred all cases from Uttar Pradesh to Delhi Police.
While granting interim bail to Zubair the Supreme Court refused to impose a bail condition that he should not tweet.
“It is like telling a lawyer that you should not argue. How can we tell a journalist that he will not write or utter a word,” the court asked the AAG. Justice Chandrachud said that if Zubair posts any objectionable tweet, he will be answerable to law and added that there cannot be an “anticipatory order interdicting someone from speaking.”
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